As I eagerly pulled the shrink-wrap off my crisp new homeschool planner last week, I felt the familiar anticipation and excitement for the coming school year welling up within me. This book, full of lovely blank spaces ready to be filled, represents all the tantalizing possibilities our new adventure offers. This one book will hold lesson plans and semester goals; records of skills mastered and books read; dates of appointments, meet-ups, and field trips; lists of chores to be done and new tasks to try, and so much more. One thing it won’t contain, though, is a time-referenced schedule for each day.
My pretty new planner has several pages available for detailing such a schedule, of course. On these pages, each waking hour has its own slot just waiting for me to decide in advance what we should do to fill each one. However, I’ve tried that, and here’s what I’ve learned: I can’t know what is best to do each hour of the day until I get to that day, and usually, to the hour in question.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love to plan. I love to envision ahead of time precisely how I will lead my children through the hours of our day, teaching them or helping them discover more about Jesus, themselves, and the world around them. I like the idea of each hour accounted-for on paper before the day begins. It makes me feel so organized and efficient! At least, it does right up until the moment we get off schedule, which typically happens within the first 27 minutes we are officially on the clock.
One child will have “misplaced” a book he was scheduled to read from 8:30-8:55. The other will unhelpfully neglect to comprehend the math concept of the day within the same 25 minutes, and it all goes spiraling downward from there. Feeling this almost-instant frustration and failure, not to mention the compulsion to recover “lost” time, serves me very ill as a teacher and a mother. It doesn’t foster the love of learning in my children either, I’ve noticed.
So despite the intrinsic (and sometimes extrinsic) pressure I feel each year to force our unique enterprise into a more conventional mold, the schedule-by-the-clock is a thing of the distant past in our homeschool. Instead, we implement what we call rhythms for our days and weeks, a flexible plan that provides just the right mix of structure and freedom for us. Our daily rhythms provide a basic weekly routine, within which I set clear expectations for what should be attempted each day without dictating exactly when each task should be done or how long it should take, for the most part. In this way, I am free to follow and foster the individual interests and talents of my children, while making sure each child’s needs are met academically, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It works beautifully for us.
Still, each year as I encounter those pages in the planner, I waver for a moment, tempted to begin boldly writing in a time schedule for each of us. This year was no exception. However, before I could even begin reminding myself of all the reasons this was misguided, my mind flew to a passage of Scripture my church small group recently studied from Romans 14.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Romans 14:17-19
At first, I couldn’t see the connection. It’s a passage about giving grace to fellow believers concerning minor points of disagreement or variances in convictions between believers over traditions and eating habits. But as I opened my Bible and read the chapter again, I understood how this Scripture applies to me as I struggle with how much non-essential—and frankly, arbitrary—control I sometimes attempt to exert over our days.
As a Christian, my desire and my intent should be to subject myself and, by extension, everything I do, to the leading of Christ, my King. Our family is part of God’s kingdom. And my focus, as I engage in my God-given calling within his kingdom, must be on the essentials, both of my faith and of my ministry.
Specifically, God was telling me, as a homeschooling mother, I cannot serve God or my children to the ultimate satisfaction of either unless I am following the Holy Spirit every hour of my day. Not my schedule. Not my curriculum. Not my homeschooling friends. Not my ambition, my pride, or my fear. In order to “make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification,” I must follow Jesus.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I learned the hard way years ago that keeping in step with the Spirit is the only way to fulfill my purpose in any given season of life. So far, the Holy Spirit has declined to equip me with a detailed advance copy of God’s will for me each day; nor has he parceled out before the day starts the lump sum of all the grace and wisdom I will need in the course of it. There is a reason for that.
It involves me abiding in him and not relying on myself. Keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus is the only way to avoid becoming lost, burned out, or stalled under the weight of expectations I am not meant to meet or (even good) things I am not meant to do during this portion of my life’s race (Heb. 12:1-2). If Jesus hasn’t told me, in his Word or through the Holy Spirit’s conviction, to carry it, I am commanded to throw it off.
Nothing is more destructive to true Christianity than placing it in modes, and forms, and circumstantials, which eat out the essentials. ~Matthew Henry
In Romans 14, Paul encourages the diverse believers in Rome to give grace to one another rather than judgment–and to live honorably before God with a clear conscience–in matters not essential to the gospel and biblical doctrine. Paul reminds the church that each believer is accountable to Christ, to whom every knee will one day bow. He exhorts them to realize that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Within the small part of God’s kingdom represented by my family, what matters is not what kind of schedule we keep or how much our educational philosophies and methods align with others’. What matters is pursuing Christ and his righteousness before all else. What matters is working to promote peace in our relationships with God and with others. What matters is bringing God and one another joy as we try to carry out his will for us each day, with faithful excellence, by relying on him completely.
So as I begin planning our new school year, I am freshly resolved, with the help of Christ, to continue weaving grace into the daily rhythms of our life. Grace toward fellow believers who run their races differently from me, doing nothing to cause them to stumble and everything to help them grow closer to Jesus. Grace toward my children, allowing them to be the unique individuals God created them to be, training and educating each according to his God-given bent as the Holy Spirit leads me.
And grace toward myself, letting go of burdens I am not called to carry and yokes I am not able to bear. Jesus invites each of us to come to him and to put on his yoke instead, to learn from him and find rest for our souls. In Matthew 11:30, Jesus declares, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That’s because, in his extravagant grace, he yokes us to himself. He goes with us, pressing forward and drawing us along, sharing his power and enabling the labor he leads us to do each day to bear much fruit and still more grace. That sounds like a good plan to me.